The Checkers’ playoff run continues even further into the month of June as the deadlocked Calder Cup Finals shifts over to Chicago for Games 3, 4 and 5.
The visitors took the ice at Allstate Arena Tuesday afternoon for a quick practice as they wait for the series to resume.
“We had a little travel day yesterday so today was really just trying to get out of the hotel and get our legs going and prepare for tomorrow,” said head coach Mike Vellucci of Tuesday’s skate.
“It was nice to get accustomed to the building,” said Roland McKeown. “Not much was said, we know the job we have to do here. We’re coming into a loud rink and they’re a heavy team so we’ll have to have our road game at its best.”
The Checkers find themselves in an identical situation to their Eastern Conference Finals series, in which they dropped Game 1 but took Game 2 at home before heading out to Toronto for three games. Charlotte would go on to take two of three on the road in that series before wrapping it up in Game 6, and they’ll be looking to replicate that success in Chicago.
“I thought in Toronto we were really solid on the road,” said McKeown. “We played a 200-foot game and came out of our zone clean. We’re looking to carry that over and do our thing.”
The team isn’t getting ahead of itself, however.
“We’re just playing it game by game,” said Vellucci. “Every series is different. This is Game 3 and we’re away from our building but I want to just treat it like any other game. Get better from the last game and work on the things we need to improve on.”
The road has treated the Checkers well lately, both in the regular season and the playoffs, including wins in three of their last four contests away from home.
“There’s different things at home, especially in the Finals,” said Vellucci. “Everyone wants tickets, family is coming in, things like that. Now it’s just hockey. Sometimes that’s beneficial.”
“We’re a high-skill team and we like to play without the nerves,” said McKeown. “You just get a little looser on the road and that builds right into our game.”
The Checkers are facing a Chicago team that they never saw during the regular season, but with two tilts between them now the Checkers have a better grasp on what their opponent brings to the table.
“I think Chicago is a much heavier team than Toronto but we got accustomed to that very quickly,” said McKeown. “They were close games both games. We have to be smart when we get those 3-1 leads, that’s two games in a row we’ve given those up. But we want to build confidence from that win and look forward to building it here.”
Charlotte’s Game 2 win ended with some fireworks, as tempers flared to the tune of a total of 59 penalty minutes. 27 of those were assessed to Curtis McKenzie, who has since been suspended for Game 3 by the AHL.
“Everybody wants to focus on that last 10 seconds but those were two really good hockey games between two really good hockey teams that are battling and want to win,” said Vellucci. “I expect the exact same thing on the road. We’re going to do all the little things that will win the game.”
The incident with McKenzie resulted in Steven Lorentz heading off the ice with the trainer, but the good news is that the young forward is on the trip to Chicago.
“He skated today,” said Vellucci. “We’ll see tomorrow if he’s any better.”
Julien Gauthier also participated in Tuesday’s skate, though his outlook is just as unclear.
“He looks good but I’m not sure if he’s going to play,” said Vellucci.